to buy the Murakami
and find Mount Fuji?
The alarm rings at 6 a m. We rise to a beautifully sunny Tokyo and get ourselves ready for the queue to buy the new Murakami novel about which no information has been released but speculation has been rife. As I said to Dee on the way, we can be sure that it will involve a forty-something angsty male reminiscing about his youth and failing to make relationships work. Beyond that there will be a context of some kind – maybe political or topical. We’ll see.
We arrive at Books Kinokunia, Shinjuku at seven and declare ourselves first in the queue. Gradually the store staff start to arrange tables outside the shop and finally piles of the coveted tome arrive. At 07:55 Dee makes the first transaction of the day and we have our copy of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. No our Japanese didn’t suddenly get better – there’s a convenient English translation on the endpapers. Now there is quite a line of people waiting to pay and clearly they are in for a brisk trade so we set off to check out, rent a car and drive to Mount Fuji.
[Because of a couple of wi-fi less days we actually know that the launch caused a much bigger stir in central Tokyo as reported in The Guardian – thanks James and for providing the provenance for our etchings in your comment.]
A swift breakfast coffee on the way – more research really as lots of scenes in the novels are set in coffee shops – and we say goodbye to the e-Hotel and take a cab to Mazda Rent a Car. Except the driver doesn’t recognize the address so it’s back into the hotel leaving the trusty baggage wrangler waiting in the street. Just as I arrive from the hotel with a more precise location I discover that the driver rather than just going to get another fare has been consulting his SatNav and also knows where to go. We conclude the car pick up OK at the office and move to find it in a nearby parking lot. It’s fine and swallows our copious baggage comfortably – good research pays off! The only problem is with the English SatNav we’d ordered – it speaks English but we can only enter destinations with telephone numbers or by using a character conversion chart for katakana – ummm. So we set off to find the Chuo Expressway (more research) and head south towards the Fuji Five Lakes area. It’s a pleasant easy drive and apart from a few bottlenecks where expressways merge we’re off and away. The first sighting of Mount Fuji from the expressway is stunning – its top half still covered in snow and rising as a perfect cone from the surrounding plain. You can understand why it’s one of the most photographed places on earth. The SatNav even gets us right to the hotel in Fujiyoshida although we can’t quite believe it.
In a real Dolphin Hotel moment (Wild Sheep Chase, Dance, dance, dance) we park tentatively rather than under the hotel itself and walk to the door which clearly says Hotel Fuyokaku. There’s no evidence in English as to where reception is but it’s clearly not on the first or ground floor (there’s much about Japan that displays an American influence). So we take the elevator for which someone must have pressed the call button so we are whisked to the fifth floor where chambermaids sit having a break surrounded by piles of sheets and yukatas. We manage to make it clear we want to check in and are sent back to the third floor where a young man emerges from a back office to check us in to room 512. We explain we parked along the access road and will fetch the car to unload. However we’ve been blocked in by a large white Nissan van. So it’s back to reception where our man has vanished and has to be summoned by bell again. He comes out with us to assess the situation, fortunately recognizes the vehicle and goes to fetch the owner. So finally we check in, unpack a bit and prepare to go in quest of Fuji. Now it’s highly visible but doesn’t have a regular phone number to punch into the SatNav so we discover what we hope is the phone number for a useful Tourist Information Centre and supplementing this with the, now map wrangler, doing her very best with inadequate resources, we set off. After a block or two we realize we are heading for a different information centre altogether and not really where we want to go. So with a few twists and turns and some stern admonishments from SatNav Lady we eventually head off up a road that leads to the fifth stage of the ascent – as far as you can go by car. We get out and join the coach parties of Chinese, French and hope that the cloud ringing the summit will clear. Actually it’s not a good photo opportunity anyway – too close and the lakes around its base are too hazy. So we descend and decide to use the tourist map to look for better views from Lakes Kawaguchiko and Saiko.
On the northern shore of Lake Kawaguchiko is a promenade lined with cherry trees which being colder down here is just coming into its prime so we get shots of both cherry blossom and Mount Fuji. The drive round the lake is beautiful and we find a number of other locations where we think we’ll get good views of the mountain.
As the evening draws in the wind gets up, we grab a few final shots, make our way back to the hotel and go out for a beer and something to eat. We arrive at a very friendly noodle bar and order just two beers but as we sit and see how many other locals come to eat there the decision to move on which resulted from our toss of the ¥100 coin – numbers or flowers as there’s no head – we give in, order delicious bowls of ramen and then retire to the hotel.
A day of achievement – we have our Murakami book, we managed to get the car and drive to Mount Fuji and we’ve seen the mountain from most angles possible.